AsiaViews, Edition: 36/VII/December2010
THE initial shares offering by Krakatau Steel not only rocked the market, it created problems among a number of journalists. The Press Council recently determined that a violation of the journalists? code of ethics had been committed during the initial public offering or IPO of the state-run steel company. One journalist involved in the scandal has resigned from his job and another was dismissed by his media organization.
It all began with a complaint that a number of journalists had insisted on buying the shares even though the offer had been closed. The Press Council immediately summoned the person who submitted the complaint along with the chief editors of the journalists allegedly involved in the case to hear their side of the story. ?We limited the issue to a violation of the ethics code,? said Press Council Chairman, Bagir Manan.
Based on the Press Council?s examination, there was unquestionably a breach of professionalism for personal gain. ?If they weren?t journalists, it is unlikely that they would get the shares when the bidding was already closed,? said Bagir. The Press Council determined that the penalty on the journalists involved should be imposed by their respective media organizations.
Bagir Manan?s careful and sensitive handling of the case was quite evident, when he decided that the journalists involved should be identified only by their initials not by their names, a trait he has acquired from years of involvement in the legal world. Prior to his current job as Chairman of the Press Council, Bagir Manan was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
On Friday last week, Bagir met with Tempo journalists Nugroho Dewanto, Yandi M. Rofiyandi and photographer Novi. Far from the grandeur of the Supreme Court halls, the former judge met the journalists at a much smaller office in the Press Council building, where he spoke at length on ethics and journalism. Excerpts:
Is it true that what began as a complaint requiring mediation, the case of the Krakatau Steel shares became a complicated issue over a breach of the journalists? code of ethics?
We never did any mediation on this case. I repeatedly asked the forum, ?Who do you want us to mediate with?? In a mediation case, there must be two different parties having conflicting or contradicting interests. There was none in this case, but there was definitely an incident. What we did was run the usual procedure, so we can produce public accountability in the form of an assessment. Mediation is an attempt at solving a problem that has been reported in the media, involving journalists.
What led the Press Council to conclude there was a breach of the ethics code, when the journalists involved insisted it was more of a reporting issue?
This did not appear in the news, it involved behavior. The behavior of a journalist must be a part of him, whether it becomes news or not. We are aware that after the offer was closed, the journalists asked to buy a specific lot of the shares. The sellers?as guarantor of the process?said it would go and find some but that they doubted they could find as many shares. Eventually, the amount requested was found. We regard this as inappropriate, notwithstanding the fact that it was done forcibly or not.
So, if the people who asked for the shares had not been journalists, it would have been impossible to get such special condition?
That?s the point. That?s what we consider as an abuse of the profession. If they were not journalists, it would have been impossible to get something in which the bidding was already closed, even though the Mandiri Securities people themselves insisted it was not absolutely closed. If there were still some shares left, why not offer it openly and give others the same opportunity to buy them?
The journalists involved claimed they were offered the shares and that no transaction took place.
We have heard from other sources that they did ask for the shares. Some said such a practice was nothing new. In my view, it was not whether it was an old or new issue but that when such a practice violated healthy journalistic principles, we must put a stop to it. However long it takes, we must stop it.
Did the complaint to the Press Council mention any form of extortion?
The concern of the Press Council is limited to the code of ethics. The task of the Press Council is to maintain and enforce the code of ethics. We cannot enter areas involving the law. Coincidentally, we did not find any instance of extortion. If we had, the Press Council would have to say it was a legal matter. We cannot speak about the Krakatau Steel IPO, but about the journalists? involvement in trying to get the shares. Journalists or any professionals should not be looking for private gain by misusing his or her profession. That profession exists on credibility. That is the basis of journalism.
Can journalists purchase shares?
Anyone can buy shares, but he or she cannot use his position to do it. We are responsible for enforcing integrity. Let it not happen that because of one person?s mistake, his media organization loses that credibility. That is why we tried to handle this case without publicity. We never used their names or their media organization. I am happy that all the media organizations cooperated. That is what we truly appreciate.
The journalists question the Press Council?s way of getting the report or complaint outside of the Press Council Building.
In the effort to maintain press freedom, to enforce the ethics code and protect journalists, the method of reporting is not the main principle which determines the work of the Press Council. If we hear that a journalist has been killed, we don?t need any other report. We will act immediately. The Press Council must not be passive in enforcing its code of ethics, in defending press freedom and so forth.
So a report outside the Press Council does not violate any regulation.
It does not violate any regulation. What is important is that we get information on the incident. The Press Council must check the veracity of the incident and the report. We will only act after the information is proven to be factual. When I was working at the Justice Ministry, we used to have meetings outside of the office. This did not mean a decision-making process was underway. The decision must still be made at a full plenary meeting.
The accused journalists feel that the Press Council?s conclusion the code of ethics had been breached was tendentious.
Why is it seen as tendentious? We don?t know them, how can it be tendentious? They have nothing to do with the Press Council.
Why did the Press Council ask Henny Lestari, director of Kita Communications, to leave the room where the meeting with accused journalists was being held?
I was not present at that meeting so you will have to check with the other Press Council members. But I am puzzled why she said she did not trust the Press Council. Journalists must know how subjects are questioned. She is not an investigator. Perhaps Henny feels that the questioning was not to seek the truth. The forum provides journalists with the right to defend themselves. So, what is the relevance to her question? Asking a person about his credit card details would be an invasion of privacy, and that is a criminal liability.
What can the Press Council do to amend the journalists? code of ethics on the capital market?
We will make all efforts to build a healthy and responsible livelihood for journalists in this country. We can make mistakes in the process, but that effort must continue, including to regulate the activities of journalists in the capital market. If we comply with the code of ethics, violations would be prevented.
Should there be some kind of an agreement with the regulatory body of the capital market (Bapepam)?
A note of agreement on the journalists code of conduct involving the capital market would be quite possible. This is to let them know what is allowed and what is not.
What would be the essence of the regulation, given that each media organization has its own rules on how their journalists can play the stock market?
There is a general principle that can perhaps be considered. Buying shares is not forbidden but trading the stocks would be banned. Buying shares for the long term, like an investment, would not be prohibited, but involvement in daily trading can create a conflict of interest because it can involve insider trading (a criminal offense). This is because it involves ethical issues, so it would depend on the media organization. But the farther they are from risky places, the better.
If trading stocks is banned, wouldn?t that close the door to investing?
It?s a professional choice. When you work for a particular institution, you must obey its regulations. If you refuse, you leave. When you enter into a community, you must comply with how the community lives, obey its decisions and its code of ethics.
How many complaints does the Press Council get in a year?
We got almost 400 complaints this year. Out of them all, we were able to settle 170 of them. We were able to resolve many of them by responding to them and providing explanations. But others need special handling and mediation. So far, we have been quite successful in the mediation. The basic policy of the Press Council has been to prevent journalists from being involved in a legal process.
Do breaches of the ethics code ever involve major media organizations?
There have been quite a few major media organization whose news reporting have been the subject of complaints, particularly from their sources. If the complaint is about protesting the article itself, we refer the complainer to their right to protest and to send the media organization concerned a letter to the editor before it is handled by the Press Council. In general, the mainstream media has accommodated the right to respond quite well.
What kinds of complaints are mostly submitted to the Press Council?
They mostly involve investigative reporting. The deeper the media is involved in such activity, the higher the possibility of the consequences. The investigative press must be ready to face the consequences because this happens all over the world. In order to do this, journalists must obey the code of ethics, remain non-judgmental, cover both sides and always check and re-check the facts.
What is the Press Council doing about preventing journalists from being involved in the legal process because of his writings?
We cannot prevent people from taking legal steps when they feel that the decision of the Press Council has put them at a disadvantage. But we will sign a letter of agreement with the police. The concept is ready. The police, particularly at its headquarters, always informs the Press Council by correspondence, when there is a report involving the press. They usually request an expert to testify or to explain aspects involving the press.
When will this letter of agreement be signed?
The concept was agreed two days ago. Hopefully, after we meet with the new Police Chief, we can discuss it further. We hope this note of agreement will become a policy for all of Indonesia because in some regions, many journalists are still being criminalized for their writings. The Supreme Court has long issued an edict saying that when investigating or handling cases involving the press, the Press Law must be applied. But there are always cases when this is not done, like the case involving Erwin Arnada, chief editor of Playboy magazine.
When you were Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, you were one of the judges pushing for the settlement of cases, including those involving the press, through mediation.
Yes, hopefully that is still a reference for current judges to reject legal action or lawsuits which refuse to use the Press Law. We are working with the Supreme Court in providing training and educational processes.
Place & Date of Birth
Lampung, October 6, 1941
- Law Degree, Padjadjaran University, Bandung (1967)
- Master of Comparative Law, Southern Methodist University, Dallas (1981)
- Doctorate in Public Administration Law, Padjadjaran University (1990)
- Government Systems Study Program, Academy for Educational Development, Washington, DC (1993)
- Indonesian Law Study Program, Leiden University, Netherlands (1998)
- Member, DPRD, Bandung Municipality (1968-1971)
- Member, Expert Staff, Justice Ministry (1974-1976)
- Director of Legislation, Justice Department (1990-1995)
- Director-General, Law & Legislation, Justice Department (1995-1998)
- Rector, Bandung Islamic University (2000-to date)
- Chief Justice, Supreme Court ( 2001-2008)
- Chairman, Press Council (2010-to date)
By: Nugroho Dewanto, Yandi M. Rofiyandi and Novi
Tempo No. 15/XI/08-14 December 2010 photo: Novi Kartika for Tempo